A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

a salty beauty: cousin words in Arabic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 7, 2007

Today’s Arabic Word A Day has arrived in my inbox, and after reading the first word I am quite puzzled.

The word in question is:

(مليح) – mali_Hun, fem. (مليحة) mali_hah, noun

Meanings

  1. handsome
  2. pretty (fem.)
  3. nice, witty

Examples

  1. huwa rajulun mali_hun
    (هو رجل مليح)
    He is a handsome man.
  2. bintuka ha_dhihi mali_Hatun
    (بنتك هذه مليحة)
    This daughter of yours is pretty.
  3. huwa mali_hun, uHibbu ‘l-julu_sa ma’ahu
    (هو مليح ، أحب الجلوس معه)
    He is witty, I like his company.

Etymology/notes

n/a

I would like to differ with the AWAD creators’ “n/a” position on mali7’s etymology. On the contrary – I imagine that the etymology of this word is not only highly applicable but also quite interesting. After all, in how many languages is the word for “pretty” related to the word for “salt”, ملح?

Ectaco, my favorite online English-Arabic dictionary, confirms AWAD‘s definition, but gives no use of mali7 for “witty”.

Instead, it suggests فكه, which confuses things further: I now have one language source suggesting that “beauty” and “witty” are related to the word for “salt”, while the other suggests that “witty” is related to فاكهة, the word for “fruit”.

Well, naturally, as M would say, her usual smiling response to the quirks of language. Meanwhile there is much gnashing of teeth coming from greater Hamra, as once again I regret having put Lisan al-Arab, that great multi-volume Arabic-Arabic dictionary, in storage in Iowa rather than bringing it with me to Beirut.

After all, I can see the connection between salt and wit, but between salt and beauty? and between wit and fruit? What am I missing?

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